On a recent hike with my friends TJ and Jess, we were discussing an upcoming trip to Hawaii and some of the difficulties the two are having planning the trip. Naturally, against my own advice, I volunteered my own two reasons why it may be harder than you would imagine to plan for a trip to Hawaii:
- Hawaii is one of those travel destinations that people, who don't often travel, travel to. So everyone knows someone who has advice on Hawaii and it's not always the most helpful. I know that sounds terrifically elitist or bougy, but it's true.
- Everyone has a different idea of what Hawaii "is". I think the most common depiction of Hawaii is beach, a few palm trees, and a Mai Tai in hand. But there are many more "Hawaiis", from the red-rock depths of Waimea Canyon to to snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea, and all with a tremendous dose of history, culture, and activities mixed in. Every island provides a unique experience that is hard to encapsulate in a single google search.
When Cindy and I were planning for our trip to Oahu, we knew it was important to us to island hop to another island, to get a different taste of Hawaii. Despite the fact that Cindy had been to Kauai when she was younger, I pitched for us to explore there and promised she'd see a different side of the island. This is a lofty promise for someone who hasn't been to Hawaii before!
What I learned when I arrived is, no matter how much I understood that each Hawaiian island was different, I had a lot to learn about the differences within each island. For example, Kauai is what you get when you cross a national park and a luxury resort with a farm! If you don't know what I mean by that, then let's jump in. Without further ado—Welcome to the Garden Island!
We landed in Kauai around 9:50 AM after the shortest flight I have ever been on (just 25 minutes or so in the air). It was so short, that when a gentleman near me ordered a coffee during the brief in-flight beverage service, the flight attendant encouraged him to start blowing on it or else it would be still too hot by the time they had to recollect the cup!
The airport in Lihue was small and no-frills. We exited the plane, collected our bags, and hopped on a shuttle that drove us to the car rental facility. That entire journey, including the shuttle ride, was literally shorter than a walk from one end of the Tom Bradley International terminal to the other, at LAX! And for all the comments I could make about how small the airport was, the airport property is literally the same length and width of the entire city of Lihue itself! It was clear from the get-go that Kauai would provide a "small town" feel, different from most of Oahu.
But that didn't mean the island was small. From the airport, we took off in our rental car and drove west for about an entire hour, stopping only for some awesome kalua pork burritos. Once in the town of Waimea, we turned right and our elevation began to climb. We rose from sea-level to nearly 3,500 feet up on a winding 10-mile drive up the side of a ridge. Cindy was not thrilled by the experience but it was all made worthwhile when we arrived at our first destination—Waimea Canyon.
Slicing through the western side of Kauai, Waimea Canyon is a massive gorge formed by millions of years of rainfall-fed erosion and the partial collapse of the volcano that formed Kauai. The canyon, both grand in its scope and characterized by layered red ridges, is considered to be the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Cindy and I had visited the actual Grand Canyon a mere three months prior to Kauai and we liked this one just as much! To top things off, this canyon had an amazing view of the waterfall that carved it, again one of many reminders of the powerful things that happen when a little water and a lot of time team up together.
Like many vistas, we grabbed as many pictures, selfies, and panoramas as we could before it was time to hop back into the car and head up the road to our next stop. Leaving the canyon-side of the ridge, we drove through what felt like a dense jungle until we emerged on the ocean facing side. Now just over 4,000 feet above sea-level, we had arrived at the spectacular Kalalau Lookout.
When we reached the Kalalau Lookout, a massive cloud was moving through the valley. While it is an amazing sensation to be standing beside an enormous moving cloud, it wasn't quite the breathtaking vista that we had been promised in the brochure. We waited for a while and I could tell Cindy was beginning to decide that the drive wasn't worth the effort! We were about to call it quits when I noticed the faint outline of a far ridge emerge from beneath the fog.
Finally, a view!
The famous green and grey walls of the Kalalau Valley emerged like spires on a cathedral. The view was as breathtaking as promised (likely because of how terrifying it is to be standing 4,000 feet above the ocean and looking straight down!). Though clouds were still drifting into the valley and up its walls, we managed to take several fantastic photos. We then went an additional 1.5 miles up the road to the next view-point when we reached the road's end.
Though we could have continued on foot (for another 11 miles or so), we were happy to call it quits and begin the return-journey down the ridge. We were nearly 2.5 hours from our hotel in Lihue and it would be check-in time when we arrived. So we returned to our car in the parking lot and turned ourselves around.
I suppose that parking-lot photos of chickens walking around means that this time is just as good as any to address Kauai's chicken-thing. All of the Hawaiian islands have wild(ish) chickens walking around but nowhere is it more prolific than in Kauai! Attributed to coops that were blown open during a 1992 hurricane, the island's chickens are one of its most identifying features. Every gift-shop we walked into had chicken magnets, chicken photo-frames, and chicken T-shirts. They had no fear of humans and were quite funny.
Anyway, moving on. Earlier, on our way towards Waimea, Cindy and I noticed a sign that said "Russian Fort Elizabeth" just out of town. On the way back, having made good time down the hill, we decided to stop and poke our heads around. We learned that from 1817 to 1853, the Russian-American Company built and occupied a fort on Kauai through the permission of an alliance with King Kamehameha I. Though the fort is mere rubble today, it is still possible to walk around it and learn about its unique history.
There wasn't much to the fort. I used my phone to take a picture of the map and informational signage and had to refer to it throughout our walk to get any information about the sights. Our favorite part of the stop was getting to sit at the mouth of the Waimea River, dip our feet in, and watch a local guy fish.
Once our shoes were back on and we had trekked back to the parking lot, it was time to go to our hotel (this time for reals). Once in our car, I saw something that I have heard stories about my entire life but never had the pleasure of witnessing myself...
...that's right, I saw the chicken cross the road.
Anyway, since I can feel you all rolling your eyes, let's move on. We checked into our hotel, an old and charming inn on the port-side of town. Though secluded in a part-industrial, part-residential area with no beach access and not a lot going on, I really liked the set-up: laid back and relaxing with a great view of the nearby mountains.
After resting for a bit, we decided to make the most of the remaining sunlight and check out the other side of the island. And so, we hopped back into the car, Googled for a waterfall, and we were off!
We arrived 30 minutes later at Opaeka'a Falls, a beautiful double cascade waterfall visible from a parking lot off of Hawaii Route 580. We grabbed our pictures and then crossed the road for some even more spectacular views of the Wailua River, some Native Hawaiian ruins, and the setting sun.
It was starting to feel as though the day was winding down but Cindy and I still had steam in the engine. We decided to Google one last waterfall and make a dash for it before we lost the light! And so, we booked it to Wailua Falls, a tall waterfall near Opaeka'a Falls on a map, but quite some road away. As we parked in the parking lot, most of those who were there were wrapping up and leaving. The sun had officially set, but there was still some light to enjoy.
Proud of a jam-packed day in Kauai, we took many selfies with the falls, each with differing levels of success.
Tired, sweaty, and hungry, we made our way back to the coast. The drive through a series of ranches and pastures was peaceful and calm. When we reached the town of Wailua, we found an awesome family Filipino restaurant and dug in. It was a rare treat because, despite being married to a woman of Filipino descent, she rarely wishes to dine at Filipino restaurants. My favorite part of the meal was the banana lumpia, which was a pretty awesome dessert! During dinner, we chatted with the locals about what it was like to live and eat in Kauai. They were so incredibly friendly and it was a surreal experience to sit in a "family restaurant" and feel legitimately like a guest invited to family dinner. When we were done, we made our way back to our hotel, really pleased with our first day in Kauai.
Our next day in Kauai wouldn't be so peaceful! On this day, we journeyed to the northern side of the island until we reached the road's end. There, we spent the entire day hiking on the treacherous and challenging Kalalau Trail (or at least 8 miles of it!). You can check out how we answered the call of the Nā Pali Coast (and made a fool of ourselves by doing so) in my recent Hawaiian Hikes blog post.
If day one in Kauai was about the beauty and sights of the island, and day two was about the challenge it presented, day three naturally needed to be about its relaxing and rejuvenating features! Though we spent most of our third day in Kauai lounging at the hotel and healing our sore and burned bodies from the previous day's hike, we went on a "sunset cruise" in the afternoon. The views were so stunning, that I've decided to post them separately from this post in a "bonus blog post," coming real soon!
Which brings us to day four in Kauai, our departure day! After a marvelous five days in Oahu and three full days in Kauai, it was time to fly out! But not before one final relaxing stretch along another Hawaiian beach! With an afternoon flight, Cindy and I were afforded enough time to drive to the Kealia Beach. Once there, we took a walk along the Ke Ala Hele Makalae, a "multi-use" trail that spans 4 miles of Kauai's Royal Coconut Coast.
With no desire to go anywhere in a hurry, we slowly strolled along the path for about a mile until we encountered an unusual landmark of sorts: The Pineapple Dump.
The Pineapple Dump is a concrete truss that once held up the "end of the line" for a pineapple plantation train on Kauai. After the pineapple was sliced, diced, and canned, the excess pineapple waste would be carted to this point and dumped into the sea. Apparently when the wind blew strong enough, the neighboring town was inundated with the putrid smell of rotting pineapple!
We walked up to the awkward relic of history and took some photos before it was time to turn back. We walked even more slowly on the return trip, not wishing to leave the beautiful island.
Kauai was an absolute treat. For Cindy, who had visited the island when she was younger and mostly stayed at one resort, she was amazed by how much more island there was to see! For me, Kauai was everything that I wanted it to be and more. Kauai is an island I've seen my entire life in brochures, books, and movies (including some of my favorites: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park). To visit in person is to be shocked by the revelation that "this place is real" and "it really is this beautiful". Some of my favorite photos that I have ever taken were here in Kauai and it was with no effort on my part—the island brings all of the magic. Though I still have so much of Hawaii to see, I hope to be back one day!
For some more gorgeous photos of Kauai, check out the gallery below: